GW Law Student Julia Haigney Named 2016 Commencement Student Speaker

Double alumna and former staff member says making GW home helped her grow.

George Washington University Commencement student speaker Julia Haigney (center) is congratulated by competition finalists Friday. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
April 18, 2016

By Brittney Dunkins

Long Island native Julia Haigney, B.A. ’11, arrived at the George Washington University in 2007 feeling as many freshmen do, eager to experience what GW and D.C. had to offer but nervous about the challenges of navigating college life. 

Little did Ms. Haigney know that nine years later, after earning two degrees—a bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 2011 and a law degree this May—and working as a staff member in five GW departments, she would channel her diverse experiences into a speech that would land her the coveted role of 2016 Commencement student speaker.

Ms. Haigney will deliver her speech to an estimated 25,000 students, parents and friends May 15 at the 2016 Commencement ceremony on the National Mall.

“As I mentioned in my speech, when I arrived at GW I couldn’t even do my laundry,” Ms. Haigney laughed Friday, just minutes after George Washington President Steven Knapp named her the winner of the 2016 Commencement student speaker competition.

“If I had left four years ago after earning my undergraduate degree, I don’t think I would have realized how supportive the community is here and how everyone at GW pushes one another to be better versions of themselves.”

Ms. Haigney was selected from among nine undergraduate and graduate student finalists with a speech recounting how GW taught her to try “green eggs and ham,” a reference to the popular Dr. Seuss book that encourages children to try new things.

Finalists were selected from a pool of 54 undergraduate and graduate students.

Ms. Haigney said that GW opened her up to new opportunities and challenges, a period of discovery that she refers to as trying "green eggs and ham," after the Dr. Seuss children's book. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today) 

An adventurous spirit and willingness to explore the unfamiliar led Ms. Haigney to many “Only at GW” moments, such as earning a high profile internship at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP law firm in New York City and arguing before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. in the 2016 Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition.

Her achievements also include serving as a residential advisor, earning a 2011 Baer Award for Individual Excellence, interning on Capitol Hill and working as a full-time staff member in GW Housing and Division of Student Affairs prior to enrolling in law school.

Ms. Haigney said that her time as a staff member reshaped her perspective of GW by providing an inside look at how the complex university system works together to help students achieve academic, professional and personal success.

Gratitude for the support from faculty, staff, mentors, family and friends was a theme of Ms. Haigney’s speech.“There are so many people who have helped me become the person I am,” Ms. Haigney said. “I have a lot of thank-you notes to write before I leave.”

Special Assistant for Broadcasting Operations Dick Golden was among the judges who selected the student speaker. He has served on the student speaker judges panel since 2012 and will help to prepare Ms. Haigney to deliver to her speech.

Mr. Golden said that he was impressed by Ms. Haigney’s call for graduates to “change the course of history.”

I was so impressed with the students who entered the competition—all with substantial academic and personal accomplishments,” Mr. Golden said. “Ms. Haigney’s speech attracted me because she represents the students who come to GW with great ambition and some trepidation about learning and living in our nation's capital.

“The university culture inspired her to go beyond any self-imposed limitation—to stretch, to reach up and to become the best person she could be.”

Looking ahead, Ms. Haigney is preparing to take on another adventure following graduation—a year-long clerkship for a judge in South Bend, Ind. She will relocate to New York City next fall.

Before her next chapter begins, Ms. Haigney will end her time at GW with an experience that few GW students receive. She will stand on the stage flanked by Dr. Knapp and Commencement speaker U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and tell her personal GW story.

“There are myriad amazing experiences that make up my time at GW,” Ms. Haigney said. “I hope to encourage my fellow graduates—and myself—to continue to challenge ourselves.”